Landlords understand the value in having a property report carried out at the beginning and the end of a tenancy, with interim inspections and property reviews carried out every three to six or twelve months.
Without this safeguard, it can become extremely difficult to settle disputes and apportion responsibility for loss or damage that occurs during the tenancy.
Landlords entrust their highly valued asset to the day to day keeping of their tenants and agents with only limited opportunities to monitor the condition of that asset. Regular property inspections and visits are vital to the entire lettings process, so the inventory clerk provides an essential service to the customer and private rental sector.
However, even the most dedicated clerks using the most sophisticated software can sometimes find themselves in difficult situations where, rather than having the solution to a dispute, they can become part of it.
Inventory property management can never be an exact science but if the customer expects a certain level of service, report information and type of evidence, they will understandably be dissatisfied if the reality fails to meet that expectation.
Customer satisfaction is the goal of all services
Most would agree that positive customer satisfaction is the pinnacle of any service however service providers are only human and frequently the circumstances they encounter can militate against perfect results.
It is therefore possible and highly likely that at one point in your career you will find yourself, as an inventory clerk or service provider, managing a disgruntled customer be that the landlord or tenant or on the receiving end of an agents dissatisfaction.
There are, however, some measures you can take to prevent this or at the very least, mitigate the effects.
It is essential when accepting a commission from the customer (landlord or letting agent) that you ensure you provide the information needed so they have all the facts to hand and therefore set the correct expectations.
A property inspection is a very detailed procedure that requires extraordinary levels of access, concentration and expertise. It is therefore not hard to imagine the enormous variety of circumstances that can make this role challenging and to be definitive in your findings.
For example, there may be an item on the check out which you find to be missing. The tenant may tell you that it has been sent for repairs, which you can only verify by sight of some form of paperwork. Without this, you cannot confirm the tenant’s account and you should make this clear in your report. The landlord may not welcome an equivocal answer but as long as you have taken all the necessary steps to get to the crux of the issue, this is all you can realistically provide.
Another example may be that you have reason to believe that there are people living in the property who are not on the lease and not otherwise authorised to be there. This can sometimes be easy to evidence; more mattresses than rooms, a large amount of food in the cupboards or belongings not consistent with the number of tenants shown on the AST.
It can also be hard to prove especially as you don’t have an automatic power to request evidence to the contrary.
The presence of unauthorised individuals could have serious consequences not just in terms of increased wear and tear but also for the landlord’s insurance, which may be invalidated as a result as well as the obvious monetary and even potential fines and implications when properties are sub let or over populated.
In some instances, it may simply be impossible to verify the condition of fixtures, fittings or furniture because they are obstructed in such a way as to be inaccessible. Some types of damage can also be intentionally concealed: without moving every piece of furniture in the property you can’t be certain that there isn’t a stained carpet, burn marks or a broken tile there.
The types of issues and examples are virtually limitless
But what they all underline is that as an inventory clerk, you can only do so much in the specific circumstances and it is absolutely essential that this is made clear to the customer before you proceed with an inspection. This is why expectations set at the beginning of any contract or working relationship are so important.
At the same time, it is important to address the related matter of the legal constraints under which you are required to operate. The landlord’s rights of access are prescribed by law and your rights exist only as an extension of theirs, with the caveat that when acting as their agent, you must have written authority to enter the property and act on their behalf.
If a dispute should arise, during the life of the tenancy or at its end, your report will likely contain evidence crucial to its settlement.
If the report is incomplete or inaccurate for any reason then you could find yourself being expected to shoulder some of the blame. In these circumstances, you might find yourself dealing with an irate landlord, a disgruntled customer or tenant or an agent less inclined to use your services as damage to their own reputation is likely if a disgruntled landlord refuses them permission to use you as their service provider.
Firstly, remember that your obligation is only to the customer which in most cases will be the landlord, so you do not have to engage with the tenant, whatever their misgivings.
As far as the landlord is concerned, it is always best to behave both calmly and professionally. It is in your interest to defuse a potentially volatile situation quickly because, like any service provider, you rely on reputation and recommendation so any impact to your standing as a business and service provider can have a long term impact as well as the immediate one of not being commissioned or shouldering the costs associated with the issue or complaint.
Respecting the customers displeasure is vital
Let them voice their concerns and not appear to resort too quickly to self-justification as this will often lead to a ‘closed conversation’ with both parties unable then to move forward and find a resolution.
Instead, you should explain the specific difficulties you may have faced, remind them gently of the caveats you gave them at the beginning of the process and assure them that you will assist them in any way, evidentiary or otherwise, to reach a satisfactory settlement.
Be clear that you understand something is wrong but don’t feel pressured to accept any blame. Focus instead on the positive contribution you can still make to the outcome. Your customer may not be thrilled with the result but a conciliatory, collaborative response from you can help all parties reach a satisfactory resolution.
And finally, be prepared with either an option, offer or remedial action to rectify the situation so you never then feel ‘ambushed’ by the customer.
Think about what you can and are prepared to do to help manage the issues. This could be returning to the property to update the report, offer to carry out the next report at a discounted rate or offer to reimburse the landlord for any financial loss.
However, only consider these as options
Make sure that the fault or blame is not down to the customers failure to manage the property or process before offering to make a such a gesture otherwise you could end up setting a precedent where there is an expectation that you will resolve any future issues by the same methods even if not your clerks fault or down to the service you have delivered.
Managing a disgruntled customer does mean admitting blame when the fault lies elsewhere but if you have options at your disposal then the situation is likely to be sorted quickly and (mostly) to everyone’s satisfaction. Your customer will thank you for your speedy response and you will remain in control of the narrative.
Inventory Base specialises in the provision of property inventory software which helps inventory clerks to carry out their duties with completeness and professionalism.
Our property inspection app is designed to anticipate virtually any contingency and allows customisation for those situations which throw up unforeseen eventualities. We see ourselves as the perfect partners for inventory clerks, property reporting professionals, managers and the wider reporting industry by sharing their commitment to service excellence and customer satisfaction.